Journal Essay

The Muslim Brotherhood in America: Citizens with Foreign Attachments?

Mohamed Nimer

Winter 2010, Volume XVII, Number 4

Dr. Nimer is assistant professor of Islam and World Affairs at the School of International Service, American University. He is the author of "Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism: Measurements, Dynamics and Consequences," in Islamophobia: A Challenge to Pluralism in the 21st Century, by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin (eds.). He can be reached at Nimer[at]

This paper investigates the practical politics of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the United States and its implications for U.S. engagement with the Muslim world. The movement has a substantial following in the Arab world and among Arab communities in the West, including thousands of members and supporters who have obtained American citizenship. Interest in this topic derives from observing the roles of Islamic groups in the American domestic scene, and from assuming that political Islam in the United States has not reached its full potential. First, I will define the place of political Islamic immigrants within a system of democratic pluralism and responsible citizenship in an age of globalization. Then I will trace the development of the American MB, testing its readiness to play by the rules of the emerging American polity.


James Madison, responding to Alexander Hamilton's view of a strong union, warned against sacrificing liberty to attain unity. But he also acknowledged that "liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires."1 While Madison assumed economic reasons, especially the unequal distribution of property, to be the most important source of a splintered polity, he also recognized "zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power."2

Robert Dahl noted the paradox of democratic life: unity is to be found by respecting diversity. In this system of politics, independent organizations are highly desirable, but their independence allows them to do harm.3 Tony Smith attempted to apply such a conception of democratic pluralism to the rising power of ethnic groups in an emerging polity that interacts with the world at large, not only through America's military and economic involvement overseas, but also through the foreign connections of its many ethnic groups. With globalization and the end of the Cold War, Americans have become part of the world, and the world has become part of America.4 However, Smith warns of a problem with American democracy today: Despite its being the sole superpower, the United States may eventually fail if citizenship becomes meaningless or if unrestrained factional passions undermine national political cohesion.5

The study of Islamic activists with foreign attachments and the implications for U.S. foreign policy are directly connected to the analysis of the meaning of contemporary democratic citizenship. Many Muslim immigrants arrived from newly independent states whose societies have experienced an Islamic revival. These immigrants joined a society that has been moving to acknowledge its own diversity, especially following the civil-rights movement. American involvement in the Muslim world has grown tremendously as the United States has become the preeminent world power.

September 11, 2001, caused a sea change in Washington's attitude toward political Islam in the Arab world, which it had long ignored. The administrations of both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton feared the disruptive potential of Islamist politics.6 Such thinking was thrown out during the presidency of George W. Bush, as the United States moved to embrace engagement with nonviolent groups.

Given the nature of the contemporary American polity, how efficient is the U.S. government in dealing with Islamic activists? Some of these actors are American citizens whose interactions with other components of society could influence the American political system. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has had connections to parties that are either in government or wield significant political influence in several Arab countries and among Muslim minorities in Western states.

The place of the MB in the United States can be analyzed by examining how Islamic rhetoric and action have evolved in American political life. There is currently public debate on Islamic activism, stemming from policy concerns about foreign nations largely unsympathetic to America and heightened public apprehension about the prospect of domestic terrorism. Is it possible for American Muslim activists with roots in Muslim-majority countries to help stem the tide of radicalism by first becoming incorporated into America's pluralistic democracy?

Abdulaziz Sachedina and Khaled Abou El Fadl argue that normative Islam, whether in the Quranic text or the example of the Prophet Muhammad, can be interpreted to support the values of democratic pluralism.7 Islamic democrats are actively pushing for reform across the globe, and the majority of the world's Muslims are in favor of both Islam and democracy.8 Therefore, there is no reason Muslims cannot be part of a Western pluralistic experience. The political theorist Andrew March views Islam as a comprehensive doctrine that can accommodate and be accommodated in the liberal concept of the state. He argues that "there is a consensus on the terms of social cooperation in a liberal society and thus that the comprehensive doctrine in question is providing its adherents with moral reasons for endorsing those terms."9 I argue elsewhere that Muslim immigrants in America meet the requirements of such an understanding of citizenship.10

For observers of American political behavior, the more important concern is whether Islam and democracy are compatible in the actual practice of politics. Therefore, the analysis has to move from the level of ideas, laws and individual behavior to the actions of leaders and groups. The influential MB is particularly important because it originated abroad and continues to maintain affinities to foreign actors who have no obligation to America. Smith proposes two essential rules for the responsible exercise of politics by groups with such attachments:

1) No faction should "work to further the agendas of foreign groups or governments, regardless of the thinking in Washington or in America at large."11

2) Factions must respond to "fair criticism of their demands in ways that deal with the merit of the charges."12

If factions pursue their political passions within the boundaries of American public discourse and accept public scrutiny, their foreign connections can be viewed as a form of expanding the relevance of American political dynamics overseas. In other words, these two rules of responsible citizenship outline how groups assimilate politically in America while remaining attached to ideas and events in other countries.

If the political ambitions of Islamists can be framed within the demands of democratic pluralism, it is easy to view them as merely another faction vying for power in a polity operating on a global stage. Even those who support Islamization can find a niche for their activism in the West by defusing points of friction between the demands of Western citizenship and membership in a universal community of faith. This process is already in motion, as evidenced in the development of operations such as LaRiba, a homeowner lending company marrying Islamic values to American real-estate business practices, and Amana Mutual Funds, an Islamic version of socially responsible investment. In other words, this analysis is anchored in the premise that the transnational identities of Islamic activists can be viewed as subordinate to national and global political dynamics.


The MB represents a small but influential segment of the American Muslim community's fractured organizational structure. Most of the 1,350 Islamic centers in the United States are independent, but groups that are now or have in the past been affiliated with the MB represent the bulk of activists in the public square. They compete against factions with divergent interests, but they are also internally divided, like the secular Arab-American groups that make some of the same demands on the political system.

Beyond American shores, the MB is active in much of the world. U.S. officials assert that the group has branches in 77 countries.13Analysts such as John Esposito, Graham Fuller and Edward Djerejian would praise the MB's moderating effect as a force of stability and reform in a vital region of the world.14 The Nixon Center's Robert Leiken identifies mutual interests between the United States and the MB in terms of "opposition to al-Qaeda, the encouragement of democracy, and resistance to expanding Iranian influence."15 He suggests a dialogue with the group, beginning with reformists living in the West.

MB influence in American Muslim communities extends beyond their committed cadres. MB members share a religion-based worldview with all Muslims: a set of beliefs that explain the existence of man and his fate and the general manner in which people should conduct themselves. MB members share another characteristic with practicing Muslims: religiosity, an intensity of religious sentiment and practice. In the Arab universe, whether in the Middle East or among Arab minorities in the West, the MB is the largest nongovernmental organization active among practicing Muslims. This represents a plurality, if not a majority, among Muslims that has supported MB community-building efforts and voted for their candidates. But Arab Muslims are not likely to gain sustainable political influence under the leadership of the MB if the organization resists genuine integration.

The prospect of MB political assimilation or adaptation to life in America raises a number of questions. Is the MB's agenda based on the American experience of its members? Do MB members abide by the obligations of American citizenship, or are they merely enjoying the rights and benefits implied in it? Is there any evidence that the MB has moderated its views as a result of experiencing life in America? A review of the history of the group may offer some valuable clues.

Culture Shock

Some members of the MB came to the United States to escape repressive measures against the group in Egypt after the mid-1950s. However, most members from the various regions of the Arab world arrived in the United States as part of the post-1965 immigration wave, after rules restricting non-Europeans were relaxed. Initially, most did not come to settle, but to study or live in safety until conditions back home improved. Only a handful came as imams hired by Arab governments to serve in American mosques. Thus, it was primarily self-interest that brought members of the various MB groups to America.

Until the mid-1980s, students made up the bulk of MB arrivals. They began looking for places to worship on their campuses, and there they met other Muslims who shared their interests. Some came from South Asia and were affiliated with the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamic Group). Together they created the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at a meeting at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in 1963.16 The MSA experience had a profound impact on these new young immigrants, who began developing shared American experiences. They also found the non-Muslims on campus surprisingly welcoming. With all the messages of anti-Western imperialism they had heard overseas, they did not come expecting Westerners to help them find places to pray or give them offices to meet in or allow them to secure funds for their campus activities.

Many of these immigrants were also surprised by an unusual side effect of the influence of American culture on their off-campus communities. American mosques are run like Christian congregations; they raise funds through bake sales and membership pledges and offer community services in addition to worship. In contrast, mosques in the immigrants' countries of origin were run like government buildings, maintained by government workers who opened them right before services and closed them soon afterwards. The religious freedom they found here added to their motivation to become more involved in community life. Thus, through the mosque they acquired a new identity based on an American experience.

MB members came to America from different countries with different memories, but they were all relatively the same age, making them relatively equal in status, weakening the traditional power structure, which in part depended on seniority. The dynamics of usra (family, the basic unit in the MB organizational structure) changed significantly from the familiar pattern back home. Even the nomenclature has changed. Usras in America are headed by masuls (higher-ranking members) rather than murabbis (educators) or naqibs (captains). Moreover, members live far apart and move frequently due to changing occupational status. In the early years, members remained in touch with the MB branch in their homeland.

By the late 1970s, an MB leadership for the United States and Canada was created. This marked some autonomy from the international movement but not a break with it. National leaders could not contain disagreements. Members who experienced culture shock upon arrival acquired a new outlook on the priorities of Islamic activism in the contemporary world beyond the confines of MB ideology. Soon the MB began to split into formations that bore little resemblance to the old structures. The new groups would not have been possible under the old ways.

In the early 1980s, for example, some MB leaders formed the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Its founders had witnessed the richness of intellectual life in the West — first in England, then in the United States. They immediately correlated this with Western scientific advancement and concluded that the most important problem facing the Muslim world was intellectual, the result of a lack of education that left Muslims with a huge knowledge deficit. Taking advantage of the freedom allowed in America, they established an international organization with 20 offices around the world, publishing works on Islamic intellectual reform. Working under the guidance of Professor Ismail al-Faruqi of Temple University, they reached out to academics in the West. To sustain their work, they invested in business, real estate and the securities market. While universal in scope, their work has had tremendous impact on American Muslims. Their top jurist, Dr. Taha Jabir al-Alawani, contributed to the development and promotion of the concept of fiqh al-aqaliyat (jurisprudence for minorities), which justified an independent interpretation of religion by Muslims in the West.

Leaders of IIIT also played a role in the establishment of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which grew out of the MSA experience. Former MSA members who settled in America began thinking about community development. With petrodollar funds, they established a base of operations in Plainfield, Indiana, in 1983, and offered training and facilitation services for local communities and leaders. Some of their founders were a part of the MB or Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) movements prior to their arrival to the United States. Some of these leaders kept their strong ideological ties; consequently, they split from ISNA and resumed their traditional activism. ISNA continued to attract support. Its annual conventions are attended by more than 30,000 participants, making the group the largest America-centered Islamic movement. Today, only five of the 18 ISNA board members are of Arab ancestry. The board includes a white female president, an African-American professor, an imam of Turkish origin and 10 other members of South Asian descent. It has engaged in substantial interfaith activities, especially since 9/11.

Joining an Open Society?

The rise of splinter groups and successful national and international organizations caused MB leaders to feel somewhat marginalized. By the late 1980s, the MB realized that many of their members had acquired citizenship and settled in America permanently after receiving job offers or marrying American spouses. But it was not until the Gulf War of 1990 that MB leaders began reconsidering their status as a group and started taking a more visible presence in the community. Many local MB leaders were featured prominently in the media because they opposed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Media networks began running an "Islam in America" series profiling local mosque leaders during the crisis. These leaders joined local Christian congregations and other civil-society groups in anti-war activism following the American military intervention.

These gains presented a challenge to the national MB leadership. The local leaders were developing public recognition and building relations that did not yield cumulative benefit for the national group. National leaders blamed this state of affairs on a secretive organizational structure and a culture that focused on the return of foreign students to countries where many MB branches were not allowed to operate openly. To protect and build on their gains and to reconcile themselves with the reality of operating in America, they adopted a new policy of alaniyah (public, as opposed to secret, organizing).

The World Trade Center bombing of 1993 by Islamist extremists obviously caused tremendous anxiety among Islamic activists in America. It left the MB no choice but to move forward with alaniyah. The MB had been registered legally in the 1960s as the Cultural Society, but it decided to adopt a new name, the Muslim American Society (MAS), in part to symbolize recognition of their geographic identity. They established an office in Alexandria, Virginia, which became fully operational by 1996. MAS appeared to be distancing itself from the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. Consider the following statement explaining of the decision that led to the establishment of MAS:

Mindful of the dynamic changes that are taking place within the Muslim community and its surroundings, and keeping an eye on the future, a number of Islamic workers and Islamic movement followers decided in 1992, after a painstaking, measured and tedious process of soul-searching and consultation, to launch the Muslim American Society (MAS) in order to complement the work accomplished over the last three decades, and to lay the ground for the Islamic effort needed to face the next century's challenges.17

Still, the MAS website praised the contribution of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the MB movement. In one section, the website explains:

The word Tarbiya means the systematic development and training of members and potential members…. Tarbiya is the cornerstone of MAS comprehensive reform methodology, and the Tarbiya department is one of the permanent departments in the organization…. Islamic history proves the effectiveness and relevance of this methodology. Imam Hassan Al-Banna, the founder and the leader of a great Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, said, "Whenever you find the good Muslim, you find with him all means for great success."18

A recent report suggests that MAS has 1,500 active members and another 10,000 prospective ones.19 Besides membership training, MAS offers social and educational services, including a seminary, youth activities and advisory councils for imams and Islamic centers and schools. Therefore, MAS operates along the lines of MB activism: offering social services and outreach activities to recruit members who will ensure organizational growth.

The political quality of MAS ideals is clear. The group adopted an organizational mission emphasizing a public call to Islam and family values. To relate to its non-Muslim surroundings, MAS outlined its perception of common-ground values, promoting "the participation of Muslims in building a virtuous and moral society [and] the human values that Islam emphasizes: brotherhood, equality, justice, mercy, compassion and peace."20 MAS also proclaimed the goal of unifying American Muslims. It is possible that MAS wanted to reclaim its lost leadership position among activists with historical affiliation with the MB movement.

American minorities invest in their internal solidarity. So long as they pursue this through legal means, no one will stop them. The U.S. government has even overlooked the misbehavior of minority-group leaders in their attempts to keep members in line. For instance, "[u]nder the leadership of Jorge Mas Canosa CANF [the Cuban American National Foundation] acquired the reputation of committing widespread acts of community terrorism, including physical assaults on many individuals."21 MB leaders can be authoritarian, but American political culture respects the autonomy of nongovernmental organizations.

MAS remained silent, however, on key goals upheld by the IOMB, such as establishing an Islamic state and liberating "the Islamic nation" from non-Muslim occupation.22 Moreover, MAS did not take a position on the IOMB categorization of the world into Muslim-majority lands and others in which Muslims are in the minority. Under IOMB's vision, Muslim majorities and minorities are part of one ummah nation that seeks international cooperation and the building of human civilization on the basis of spiritual and material needs.23Has MAS identified itself or the Muslim community as a minority that seeks to coexist as a loyal partner to a dominant majority, as provided for in the vision of the IOMB? MAS did not engage in public advocacy until after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


MB leaders and affiliate groups were very quick to condemn the 9/11 attacks.24 Such moderation, however, did not alter the direction of U.S. government policies on Islamic organizations. A wave of nationalist sentiment had swept through the country, demanding a stronger show of loyalty by Muslims. The community came under increased scrutiny as law enforcement agencies looked with increased skepticism at the MB and other American Muslim groups. Islamic organizations and leaders with foreign attachments were identified as potential sources of threat.

From the perspective of democratic pluralism, the ultimate test of loyalty lies in the reaction of MB members to the U.S. projection of power into Muslim-majority lands. MAS opposed the Iraq War on the grounds that it was illegal under international law. The group had not developed a position on international conventions or the whole modern nation-state system, but the rationale for its opposition seems to suggest more than simply viewing world events from the perspective of Muslim vs. non-Muslim.25

This direction has been evident in the actions of various MB subgroups. Like the Kuwaiti MB during the 1990 Gulf War, Iraqi MB members aligned themselves with the United States. For example, Saif Noman, a leader and the son of an imam at the MB-led Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, moved to Iraq's Green Zone and became a consultant to Tariq al-Hashimi, vice president of Iraq and founder of the Islamic Party, the only Sunni group that publicly joined the political process under the administration of Paul Bremer. Neither MAS nor any other MB group commented on this behavior.

The aftermath of 9/11 prompted the politicization of MAS. Feeling the growing public attention to Muslims in America, MAS decided to launch a public-relations office, the MAS Freedom Foundation. They hired an African-American Muslim who had taken part in the civil-rights movement to be their public face. Instead of reaching out to the majority, as would be predicted by conventional MB thinking, he did what he knew best and joined the multiculturalists in the struggle for equal rights. But MAS never declared a change in its ideology or worldview; nor have MAS leaders engaged in a review process as a result of their experience in the alaniyah phase.

This seeming conflict between theory and practice may suggest that, while participation in the politics of an open society may have changed the MB's modus operandi, it has yet to affect its objectives. But there is another possible explanation: activists change their behavior more readily than they acknowledge a modification in their thinking. This assessment is supported by other evidence of significant cultural changes inside MAS. Despite its predominantly Arab membership, it has been communicating with members even in English, launching a website without an Arabic version, as well as an English-language magazine, The American Muslim. Moreover, MAS has invested in a closer relationship with the Islamic Circle of North America, which is largely South Asian. The two groups have been holding a joint annual convention since 2002. Although both groups share ideas from their origins in foreign lands, it is only in America that they have begun to chart a shared future.

These changes were lost on the American government, however, because they did not address the deeper questions about the MB's ultimate objectives and their potential clash with American interests and ideals. Domestic law-enforcement actions after September 11 targeted groups with historical affiliation to the MB. The crackdown, which included raids, investigations and prosecutions, the shutting down of international relief organizations, and the severing of ties to public-affairs groups, has thus far not affected MAS directly. Government actions continued even after the departure of the George W. Bush administration. But MAS and other historically MB and JI groups have responded by seeking legal protections, which of course indicates recognition of the legitimacy of American constitutional democracy.

The complexity of the relationship between the MB and the U.S. government attracted media attention. On the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks, The Washington Post published a feature story about the MB in the West. A government official described it as

a political movement, an economic cadre and in some cases terrorist supporter.... They operate business empires in the Western world, but their philosophy and ultimate objectives are radical Islamist goals that in many ways are antithetical to our interests. They have one foot in our world and one foot in a world hostile to us. 26

Clearly The Washington Post and parts of the U.S. government are still not sure what to think about the MB movement. But MAS may have read too much into statements and actions of U.S. officials and private policy experts in favor of courting MB moderates. Shortly after September 11, congressional leaders visited Egypt and met with MB members of parliament. MAS leaders may have hoped the MB could now be seen by Washington as part of the "good Muslim" camp; hence the reawakening of its original MB identity. MAS president Esam Omeish went as far as to directly rebut a Washington Post report mistakenly claiming that MAS denied any connection to the MB. He offered the following correction:

The moderate school of thought prevalent in the Muslim Brotherhood represents a significant trend in Islamic activism in the United States and the West, and we in MAS accordingly have been influenced by that moderate Islamic school of thought as it applies to our American identity and relevance for our American reality.


We, in MAS, are an independent American Muslim organization with a staunchly clear and firm American identity operating with full respect and compliance with our laws and Constitution. We subscribe to the values and ideals of our country, its Founding Fathers and the Constitution of the land.... We maintain the highest levels of transparency and believe in the tenets of public work in a free society.

The influence of Muslim Brotherhood ideas has been instrumental in defining our understanding of Islam within the American and Western context in order to espouse the values of human dialogue, tolerance and moderation; the genuine love of one's country and care for its welfare and prosperity; and the fostering of proactive involvement within society, fulfilling one's responsibility and claiming one's rights in the greater diversity of our country.

It also has been instrumental in defining our worldviews of justice and human rights; of terrorism, its scourge and its rejection in Islam; and of differentiating between terrorism and legitimate struggles against tyranny, dictatorships and occupation.

We in MAS hope to see the United States playing a more balanced and active role in ensuring that justice, democracy and freedom prevail in all parts of the Muslim world.

We categorically and unequivocally reject and condemn terrorism and its roots here in America and abroad.27

This sentiment, while hinting at dissent from U.S. policy, espouses love for country, tolerance, moderation, civic participation and respect for diversity, democracy and freedom — all key American values. Still, the response does not explain MAS's prior attempt to distance itself from the mother organization. More puzzling is the assertion that the American identity of MAS is based on moderate MB teachings. Given the history of MB opposition to Western cultural influences, such a statement seems counterintuitive, at the very least. But commentators who have invested time in learning about the MB would view the Omeish assertions, like those made by moderate Islamist leaders elsewhere in the world, as evidence that the group is diverse.28

MB reformists have yet to come out of the closet as a collective voice moving the group toward responsible American citizenship. Jumping into the fray of politics is one thing; gaining the acceptance of other players is another. All factions have opponents, but groups that are stigmatized by the two major parties in the United States will not produce effective representation for their supporters. Given the MB's troubled history and its negative public image, MAS leaders must explain how they have changed through social education in their American environment. Even multiculturalists would demand to know if there is a new MB in Omeish's rhetoric. The most important first step is for MAS to ground itself in an American reality. Identity politics expressed through press releases that are devoid of a clear political vision is not the most effective way to communicate demands, especially in a political environment that is not welcoming. The history of Muslim-Christian relations is marked with more conflict than cooperation, a fact that should not be lost on a group that originated in the midst of European colonialism.

More troubling is the fact that MB leaders ignore the public expression of suspicion directed at them. More than three years after the shutdown of the Holy Land Foundation on suspicion of links to Hamas (which has links to the IOMB), the FBI thought Hamas was still raising funds in America. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller noted:

Of all the Palestinian groups, Hamas has the largest presence in the U.S., with a robust infrastructure primarily focused on fundraising, propaganda for the Palestinian cause, and proselytizing. Although it would be a major strategic shift for Hamas, its is theoretically capable of facilitating acts of terrorism in the U.S.29

Director Mueller did not provide information about the alleged activities, leaving the FBI susceptible to charges of anti-Muslim bias. But Muslim leaders with historical connections to pro-Hamas activism should not ignore a public pronouncement such as this from a top government official. Acknowledging the mistrust that has led to government statements and actions is an important step. MAS and other affiliated groups have failed to develop a public response to the serious implications of such an accusation, allowing the perpetual recycling of suspicions against them. This has impeded their credible participation in democratic discourse. More important, it is perhaps the root of public acceptance of further government crackdowns.

It is not that MAS and affiliated groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, are remaining silent. They have been forming coalitions to challenge the government actions legally and politically. Also, they have jumped on incidents where critics exhibited an explicit anti-Muslim attitude. There have been many examples of this, including scare tactics exploiting rumors that presidential candidate Barack Obama was a Muslim.

Indeed, outright Islamophobia has emerged as an obstacle in the national conversation about the integration of Islamic interests in the American bodypolitic.30 Still, quite often, some Islamic leaders have avoided responding to charges against them. Because of this reticence, it is no wonder some Americans do not believe the MB has changed. Some of the skeptics, however, tend to exaggerate. A recent monograph draws a biased picture of an alleged MB network of Muslim front organizations created to serve the secret goal of destroying the United States from the inside.31 The "smoking gun" that it found is a single paragraph from an internal memo by one MB student leader. Written in the late 1980s, it refers to a "civilization-jihadist process" to destroy the West.32 This cannot be considered sufficient evidence to damn a whole movement, let alone those who have split from it.

Still, the charge of Islamophobia should not be used as a club to silence substantive criticism or fair attempts to seek clarification regarding the behavior of Islamic groups. The accused organizations must respond in order to assuage the fears of those who do not know them. American history is rife with episodes of new groups facing skepticism and rejection at first. The timid response of MAS and other groups may be rooted in their insecurities during the underground phase of their experience. Some of their cohorts overseas are still living under such conditions. In those countries, hostile public depictions and rhetoric have been followed by acts of brutal repression. In response, the MB typically withdrew from the public eye. But, given all the public campaigns the American MB has run, it should know what to do: acknowledge the facts about its past affiliations and take action to correct any mistakes.

Some MB leaders prefer to demonstrate their moderation in other ways. In 2009, Omeish, the former MAS leader, who came to America as a young student and became a successful surgeon, ran for the Democratic nomination to the state legislature from Virginia's 35th district.33 He garnered 16 percent of the vote and came in a distant third. There was an oppositional campaign highlighting Omeish's MAS affiliation. In American political culture, charges against public figures that go unanswered take on the force of fact, hence the lack of public enthusiasm about the candidacy of Omeish.

Responsible citizens do not dodge serious questions and uncontestable facts. There is a clear discrepancy between asserting opposition to occupation and ignoring the fact that at least some members of one's group aligned themselves with an occupying force (as in the case of Iraq). This contradiction is not difficult to comprehend if one considers that each MB faction makes decisions responding to opportunities and constraints of their respective local context. Still, the disconnect between affirming obedience to the law and glossing over public doubts, even if unfounded, about one's connection to overseas groups is an untenable position.


MAS has pursued survival through adaptation: shedding the past of underground activism, establishing organizational autonomy, and watering down the expression of MB ideology.34 The group has been testing the waters of American politics without deciding how to integrate their organization into the fabric of American civil society. It has avoided engaging its critics and invested little effort in dispelling suspicions about its views and goals. Therefore, MAS has not passed the tests of responsible citizenship. Its approach to power is crass. Its members have sometimes been willing to align themselves with the United States overseas, but, despite their interest in foreign policy, they do not have an overall view of American interests in the world or their place in it.

Until the MB in America begins to behave like a serious political actor, it would be to its advantage to pursue civic participation as a social movement interested in broad objectives. A good model to follow is the Turkish Gulen Movement. It is also Islamic and has branches and activities around the world, but it stays clear of power politics. Seeking a place in politics without a readiness to communicate clear objectives is neither ethical nor pragmatic. Nor is it wise. But half of MAS members are American-born. The young members may soon find the ideas of their parents standing in their way.35

Evidence shows that young MAS members are finding ways to distinguish themselves. Some are developing an interest in environmental advocacy, a form of activism that is still alien to Islamists overseas.36 However, the ideological transformation of the MB is only a start. What must follow is the development of a vision of how the MB can partner with the U.S. government to achieve practical policy objectives. Democratic pluralism would require that such a strategy be articulated with a clear understanding of the obligations of American citizenship. Until then, the MB may be a good group to talk with, but they are hardly ready to sit at the national political table.

This sober conclusion about the MB does not preclude the prospect of Americanizing the whole movement of immigrant political Islam. As noted earlier, groups like ISNA have sought independence from foreign influence. The group has been welcomed by the mainstream interfaith community and moved to establish an advocacy office in Washington, D.C., after September 11. Some of its leaders had a history in the MB. It is quite possible to envision ISNA becoming a political power broker, channeling the views of different nonviolent Islamic groups to the U.S. government. With the incorporation of political Islam, one could conclude that all religious interests had found a place in America's body-politic.

1 James Madison, Federalist Paper 10, "The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection," published originally in The New York Packet, November 23, 1787, http://, April 16, 2010.

2 Ibid., April 16, 2010.

3 Robert Dahl, Delimmas of Pluralist Democracy: Autonomy vs. Control (Yale University Press, 1982).

4 Tony Smith, Foreign Attachments: The Power of Ethnic Groups in the Making of American Foreign Policy(Harvard University Press, 2000).

5 Ibid.

6 Fawas A. Gerges, America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Inerests? (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

7 Abdulaziz Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2001).

8 See, for example, John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Gallup Inc., 2007).

9 Andrew March, Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus (Oxford University Press, 2009).

10 Mohamed Nimer, The North American Muslim Resource Guide: Muslim Community Life in the United States and Canada (Routledge, 2002), pp. 14-16.

11 Smith, Foreign Attachments, p.165.

12 Ibid.

13 John Mintz and Douglas Farah, "In Search Of Friends Among The Foes: U.S. Hopes to Work With Diverse Group," The Washington Post, September 11, 2004, A12823-2004Sep10.html.

14 John Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (Oxford University Press, 1999); Edward Djerejian, Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador's Journey through the Middle East (Simon & Schuster Inc., 2008); Graham Fuller, The Future of Political Islam (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

15 Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke, "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 2.

16, March 9, 2010.

17, January 25, 2010. It should be noted that the reference to 1992 must be to internal group discussions. MAS became publicly active in 1996.

18, March 26, 2010.

19 The Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2004,,0,3008717.story, March 28, 2010.

20 Ibid., January 25, 2010.

21 Human Rights Watch, "Dangerous Dialogue: Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami's Cuban Exile Community Americas Watch, The Fund for Free Expression, August 1992," cited in Smith, op.cit.

22 See al-Nitham al-Am lil-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (General Bylaws for the Muslim Brotherhood), http://www., March 2, 2010.

23 See "Goals and Means," Article 2, Chapter 2 of the OIMB Bylaws, asp?ArtID=58497&SecID=211, March 23, 2010.

24 See, for example,, April 19, 2010.

25 See, for example, MAS, "War in Iraq: Guidelines for American Muslim Leaders," March 27, 2003,

26 John Mintz and Douglas Farah, "In Search of Friends among the Foes: U.S. Hopes to Work with Diverse Group," The Washington Post, September 11, 2004, A12823-2004Sep10.html.

27 Muslim American Society, "MAS President Letter to The Washington Post," September 16, 2004, http://, January 1, 2010. MAS website reports the refusal of The Washington Post to publish the response.

28 See, for example, Jack Shenker, "The Muslim Brotherhood at a Crossroads," The Guardian, April 18, 2009,

29 Testimony of Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation before the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence, February 16, 2005.

30 See, for example, John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, eds., Islamophobia: A Challenge to Pluralism in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2010, forthcoming).

31 Steven Merley, The Muslim Brotherhood in the United States (The Hudson Institute, April 2009).

32 Ibid.

33 Vienna Connection, June 12, 2009, er=73&cat=104, March 27, 2010.

34 Faced with public inquiries, MAS leaders now assert that they have severed ties with the mother organization. See Steven Merley, The Muslim Brotherhood in the United States, op. cit.

35 The Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2004.

36 See Green Muslim Team:, October 31, 2010.